Venture Competition Uncovers Most Promising Startups

Posted: Updated:
Zhang (center) says the win will also drum up publicity for Phytoption. Zhang (center) says the win will also drum up publicity for Phytoption.

With consumers hungry for healthier, natural food, Indiana-based startup Phytoption LLC hopes to ride the wave of demand all the way to the marketplace. The company recently captured top prize at the BioCrossroads New Venture Competition, beating five other Hoosier startups. Arrhythmotech claimed the runner-up position with a technology that aims to make a standard cardiovascular measurement noninvasive.

BioCrossroads says, to date, the annual competition has awarded more than $180,000 to 12 startup companies, which have secured over $7 million in follow-on funding. Phytoption is hopeful its $25,000 prize will be a stepping stone to grow at its headquarters in the Purdue Research Park of West Lafayette. It is already working with a few Fortune 500 companies to refine its technology and hopes to begin manufacturing at the Purdue Research Park in 2016.

Founded in 2011, Phytoption converts insoluble ingredients into soluble. Phytoption Co-founder Joanne Zhang says common nutrients, such as vitamins E, D and A and beta carotene are not water soluble, and therefore, difficult for the human body to absorb. The company believes transforming the nutrients into water soluble formats—making them more effective in foods—will be a key market for its technology.

“There’s also a major trend in the market to use natural colors [instead of artificial] in food,” says Zhang. “A lot of natural colors are not water soluble, like red, yellow and orange—that range of colors is not soluble at all. The current practice is to use a lot of solvent to address that. Instead, we’re using natural ingredients to make it soluble, so the colors can show.”

The company is also targeting the pharmaceutical sector and the cosmetic industry. Zhang says the functional ingredients in cosmetics—such as anti-aging agents—are water insoluble, and therefore, unable to penetrate beyond the skin’s surface. She notes Phytoption can make the active ingredients soluble, “so they can really function.”

Second place winner Arrhythmotech, based in Indianapolis at the Indiana University Research & Technology Corporation, is developing a new device to record and process sympathetic nerve activity and electrocardiogram signals. A conventional ECG (or EKG) focuses only on the latter measurement, but Arrhythmotech’s device will add sympathetic nerve activity to the picture.

Arrhythmotech team member Andy Cothrel says sympathetic nerve activity operates fundamental involuntary processes in the body, including a person’s breathing, heartbeat and digestive system. It’s a measurement that can also help doctors treat patients at risk of sudden cardiac death.

Cothrel says the current standard method for measuring sympathetic nerve activity is an invasive procedure that attaches electrodes directly to a nerve; Arrhythmotech’s device can capture the same information on a patient’s skin.

“We anticipate we’ll have to develop our own device to prove the technology,” says Cothrel. “But ultimately, I see the existing ECG makers probably incorporating this into their hardware and software as a way to more efficiently reach the market.”

Cothrel says the company is anticipating funds from the National Institutes of Health that will send Arrhythmotech “off to the races.”

“But that money can’t be used for things like intellectual property, market research and some of the operating expenses, so the $15,000 we won [at the venture competition] is going to come in very handy in terms of helping us advance the understanding of our marketplace and how we approach it.”

Animated Dynamics, which is developing an imaging technology for cancer therapy, earned the $10,000 third place prize, and Auricyte’s hearing loss therapy won the same amount by claiming the Pre-Venture prize. As winner of the competition, Phytoption will also have access to the Indiana Seed Fund II staff and its network of resources for business planning and early-stage strategic support.

Zhang says Phytoption is testing its technology with cosmetic companies and getting “outstanding” results.
Cothrel says, ultimately, the application of its technology could be very broad.
  • Perspectives

    • How to Find a New Audience After Hitting a Marketing Plateau

      It may sound like a marketer’s dream scenario: efforts have proven to be so successful it appears a company has completely saturated their target audience. While it may be a good problem to have, it still may be a problem. Hitting a marketing plateau is an opportunity for companies in any industry to reevaluate, re-energize and come to the table with new ideas for better understanding existing customers and engaging new audiences.

  • Most Popular Stories

    • (image courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana)

      Crews Start Demolition of Carson's in Hammond

      The face of downtown retail in Hammond is changing once again with the demolition of Carson’s department store, the one-time the anchor of Woodmar Mall. Our partners at The Times of Northwest Indiana report excavating crews have started to demolish the last vestige of the shopping center which stood since the 1950s. 

    • Some 'Emerging Ethical Dilemmas' Already Here

      An annual list of emerging ethical dilemmas and policy issues in science and technology has been released by the John J. Reilly Center for Science, Technology, and Values at the University of Notre Dame. It includes robotic clergy, a crime reporting app and facial recognition technology that could read emotions.

    • (image courtesy of The Times of Northwest Indiana)

      U.S. Steel Cuts Jobs, Low Price Imports Partially to Blame

      Pittsburgh-based U.S. Steel has announced it will idle its tin mill operations in East Chicago, affecting nearly 300 workers, half of which will lose their jobs. Our partners at The Times of Northwest Indiana report U.S. Steel blames the layoffs on the Del Monte food company which announced its own mass layoffs. 

    • UPDATE: Nestlé Details Fort Wayne Layoffs

      Virginia-based Nestlé USA says only 40 employees will be laid off at the company's Fort Wayne distribution center. A spokesperson for Nestlé tells Inside INdiana Business a WARN Notice filed with the state incorrectly stated the facility would close at the end of the year, affecting nearly 70 workers.

    • (Photo courtesy Batesville Tool & Die)

      Batesville Tool & Die Acquires Tipton Company

      Batesville Tool & Die is adding to its portfolio. The metal stamping manufacturer has acquired a majority interest in Tipton-based DC Coaters LLC. Financial terms of the deal are not being disclosed.